Date of Incident

06/09/2020

Country

Scotland

Area

Incident

Blue sky day. No wind, calm water. Tide was going out at the time, with plenty of shoreline for belaying. Approximately 15 to 20 climbers at the crag.

Myself and my partner had just finished a route and had descended by path and were walking toward the climbers. We were discussing another route (pain pillar) which is approximately 5m further on. (This is why I have stated the route in question as Saki, although it could have been one of its neighbours). At this time, the climber was approximately 12m or so off the ground.

We decided to a different route. I went to gear up, and my gear was approximately 10 m from Saki. As I geared up I heard the first bit of gear rip. Upon looking up I saw the climber falling from about 8m. I did not see the start of the fall.

The climber fell, and landed heavily on a plinth of rock or outgrop of rock. He was in horizontal body position. My impression was that he was possibly unconscious already as his body seemed very limp. He bounced off and fell a further 1.5m to 2m before coming to rest in a crevice of rock at the bottom of the crag. His resting position was face down, approximately 40cm from the bottom of the crevice, with both arms outside the crevice and supporting him from descending further.

My memory is of him landing on the plinth on his back, but my friend believes he landed on the plinth on his front.

I immediately went over to him. Initially fearing he was dead, there was some tension in his body and a little movement. I didn't have the presence of mind to check his pulse. Clear bruising to the back of his head (below the helmet - whiplash?) and blood on face and on the rock below his face, and some blood coming from his head. Clear injury to this head on left temple, and damage to helmet (black diamond half dome?)

Some other minor scrapes and bleeding on arms and shoulders.

His partner and my climbing partners joined me, and I asked his partner to call for an ambulance. There was some discussion (I wasn't looking, just heard) about whether to ask for coastguard as expertise would be needed to help gain access/remove the injured. My partner removed some of his gear from his back to clear the scene.

Around this time, I'd say 1 minute to 2 minutes after the incident, the climber showed signs of movement. Initially the came a series of distressed groans which went on for about a minute maybe. Then the climber tried to sit up, and I repeated shouted at him to not move, but he was determined to sit up, and came to rest in a squat position facing the cliff.

The injured started to ask what had happened, and kept repeating that he had no memory of what had happened. With hindsight I wish I had had the presence of mind to clearly state that he had been in an accident and help was present, but I guess he was just generally confused. His partner was also clearly in shock, but was able to phone for help and also phone the injured climbers next of kin at his request.

Around this time we were joined by two other climbers, one of whom I recognize as an outdoor instructor from nearby Ratho EICA, and she informed us that the other guy was a doctor, so we left the injured in their care.

Some other climbers, still belaying, were concerned that the call had been placed to the coastguard and not to the ambulance service, so I made a call to the ambulance service too requesting help. The ambulance service had difficulty identifying the location, repeatedly asking for a postcode or street name, which of course is a rather difficult thing for crag.

I also overheard another phone conversation between doctor/partner and (presumably) the emergency services where they were discussing downloading the three little words app and getting the location.

Soon after the doctor asked me if I could find 4 strong volunteers to help move the injured. He was suggesting moving him and lying him down on a flattish rock a couple of metres away. I have to say I was a bit dubious of this, partly from my own knowledge of first aid but also because the ambulance service had explicitly stated to me that the should not be moved. However, it wasn't necessary as at this time the first police officers appeared on the scene soon followed by the ambulance service. This was approximately 25 minutes after the fall.

Other climbers at the crag started to clear up and leave, and soon after we left, leaving the injured to the care of the emergency services. The police did surround the area and ask people to stand back so an air ambulance could land. Over the course of the next few hours a coastguard boat and coastguard helicopter also attended. Eventually the injured was carried to the nearby air ambulance and taken to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, approximately 2.5 hours after the initial fall.

Lessons

It could/should be possible to have the location of a crag, maybe in the form of "three little words" in guidebooks or on websites such as UKC or apps such as rockfax. That would help when an emergency service has to locate you (and help climbers find a crag!). If the crag was without data signal, you wouldn't be able to download the app but could still give the location.

The guidebook "Lowland Outcrops" does offer two warnings. For Saki it states "poor protection" and "loose higher up". However, there is a more significant warning in the description of the crag "sound as the base but requires careful handling nearer the top, particular between Gaucho and Guano". I can't say I recall taking note of this second warning and perhaps it could be more prominent for the climbs in question. No mention of this appears on UKC, and even the route description offers only meager comments on the subject, outnumbered by comments such as "good route" and "easy for the grade". Perhaps more should be done to highlight risks, particularly if climbers are using only the websites as a guide and not a guidebook.

It also troubles me that the doctor who arrived wanted to move the injured further. Although we would wish that all doctors were well versed in the latest first aid emergency procedures, I'd have more faith in the attending paramedics having the latest and specific training. Fortunately, in this incident, paramedics arrived before the injured could be moved as requested. If the best advice is to keep the patient still then a more active campaign to promote this advice would be welcome.

Activity

Trad rock climbing

When

Ascending

Injury

Serious injury requiring medical treatment

Causes

Route Selection, Equipment failure, all gear ripped

Anonymous?

Yes

Reported By

Rescuer

Wearing Helmets?

Yes

Rescue Services Involved?

Police, Ambulance, Coastguard.

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All reports are self-submitted and have not been edited by the BMC in any way, so please keep an open mind regarding the lessons and causes of each incident or near-miss.